Geelong Female Refuge / Bethany Babies’ Home (1868 - current)


  • Auspice: Committee of Management
  • Title or Name: Geelong Female Refuge (1868–1928)
  • Alternative Names: Bethany Babies' Home, Geelong (1928–77); Bethany Child & Family Support (1978–91); Bethany Family Support Inc (1991 – 2007) ; Bethany Community Support Inc (2007– )
  • Address: Geelong West

Geelong Female Refuge/Bethany Babies Home history in brief

In 1868, the Geelong Female Refuge was established to accommodate unmarried pregnant women and to care for babies unable to stay with their mothers. The home was nondenominational and administered by a committee of management.

In 1928, it was renamed Bethany Babies’ Home. New buildings added in the 1930s increased capacity to 40 babies. Bethany also operated as a mothercraft training school and maternity hospital. After World War II, Bethany became known as a babies' hospital treating premature and frail babies awaiting return to their parents.

By the late 1950s, capacity had been reduced to 28. Bethany already accommodated unmarried mothers and now provided residential care to wards (about 10 per cent of capacity), infant life-protection placements and privately-placed children. The children usually remained until four years of age. Bethany was also an approved adoption agency.

Bethany Babies’ Home was run as a small hospital, with a matron-in-charge and uniformed mothercraft nurses. In the late 1950s a new matron changed practices, assigned small numbers of children to particular staff, and individualised other aspects of care.

The numbers of babies and children needing placement decreased during the 1960s and 70s when Bethany began to provide respite for parents – day care for babies and short-term residential care for children with a disability. About 70 per cent of placements were now wards of the state.

In 1976 Bethany reviewed its services in the light of changed community needs and values and started providing provide family support services backed up by short-term emergency accommodation.

By the end of 1977, Bethany Babies’ Home had ceased to operate as a babies’ home and was functioning as a child and family care agency. A new program was devised to complement the service network in the Barwon Region. This involved:

  • community involvement and development
  • a counselling service
  • a pre-school play centre
  • subsidised day care
  • planned temporary family housing
  • emergency family accommodation
  • temporary/emergency single accommodation
  • temporary/emergency child care and a youth hostel.

The agency operates today as Bethany Family Support, and provides a wide range of counselling and support services to children, families and adults.

Warning about distressing information

This guide contains information that some people may find distressing. If you experienced abuse as a child or young person in an institution mentioned in this guide, it may be a difficult reading experience. Guides may also contain references to previous views, policies and practices that are regrettable and do not reflect the current views, policies or practices of the department or the State of Victoria. If you find this content distressing, please consult with a support person either from the Department of Health and Human Services or another agency.


Please note that the content of this administrative history is provided for general information only and does not purport to be comprehensive. The department does not guarantee the accuracy of this administrative history. For more information on the history of child welfare in Australia, see Find & ConnectExternal Link .


Guide to out-of-home care services 1940–2000: volume one – agency descriptions, compiled by James Jenkinson Consulting, North Melbourne, November 2001.

List of records held by the department

For information relating to the central management of care leavers and wards of state, please consult the guide to Central department wardship and out-of-home care records. These collections date back to the 1860s and include ward registers, index cards and ward files.

“Nursing card Bethany Babies’ Home”, baby and child record cards (1928–77)

Card; Unappraised

Content: The baby and child record card system entitled ‘Nursing card Bethany Babies’ Home’, compiled by the nursing staff. By the late 1950s, Bethany catered for newborn infants and children up to four years of age. The 5” X 8” cards are arranged in alphabetical order from Clem to Zyn.

The cards are divided into two sections: the first section provides general birth information on each baby but no information on the birth parents; the second section records individual dated entries on the development and health of each baby, including routine health assessments by the nursing staff and any other medical treatments. The last entry is usually ‘discharged’ and the date the baby left the home, with no other details provided.

The birth information captured in the first section of the cards was recorded under the following headings:

  • doctor’s name (hand written on the top of the card)
  • date of birth
  • name
  • sex
  • date of admission
  • weight at birth
  • weight on admission.

The second section of each card is arranged in a column format, with the following headings:

  • date
  • age
  • weight
  • diet (milk and food provided as well as diet supplements, for example Pentavite syrup)
  • remarks (information on feeding, bowel movements, teething and general health).

Some cards have attached documents relating to the baby's history, in some instances an envelope of records. They can include such information as the names of the biological parents, birth details and other medical information on each baby.

The documents attached to the cards include:

  • copies of departmental correspondence
  • attached notes and index card from the hospital where the baby was born
  • photocopies of the ‘M14A infant record’ form
  • Infant Welfare Centre booklet, developmental charts
  • ‘Urine-bacteriology’, ‘Neonatal-serology’ and other medical report
  • immunisation card
  • copies of ‘MR 12 special investigations’ and MR 5 ‘Progress sheet forms’, and so on.

Within this card system are a small percentage of ‘baby card’ enclosures. These cards appear to document babies who were discharged quickly without an extended period at the home. Most of the sections of the card were not used, with the only information recorded being name, sex, date of birth and some dated entries from the nursing staff.

These generally comprise the date and infant’s weight, as well as the date the baby was discharged from the home. These cards do not indicate where the baby was discharged to.

At the end of the first box in the series, is a 1982 note of an unsuccessful research request, from an adopted child where no information was found the admission book. This request has nothing to do with the rest of the records.

Voluntary children's homes files (c.1930–c.85)

File; Permanent VPRS Number 18069 / P0002

Content: The files record interaction between the various voluntary homes and the government. This filing system was created in 1975, combining earlier correspondence and other records to create one system with VH prefixes.

The specific file relating to Bethany dates from 1929–83 and includes:

  • Bethany Babies’ Home Geelong [copy of By Laws 1929]
  • correspondence between the home and the Social Welfare Department regarding: transfer of a baby, 1930; payments for wards from the department, 1932; protocols for adopting parents, 1941; transfers of infants from the department, 1942, 1970s; schedule of allowances from the department to various children’s homes, c.1944–46
  • exemption s. 107 Welfare Act 1928, exempt from ss. 93–106 and recommendation of approval by Minister, 23 July 1930
  • Chief Inspector’s Report with report with list of wards, dates of birth, physical state of child, 18 October 1938
  • annual, half yearly, and periodic Inspectors’ notes and reports, 1930–67
  • anti-tuberculosis campaign, 1949
  • poliomyelitis immunisation, 1956–58
  • clipping of articles from Geelong Advertiser: ‘She is “Mother” to 30 Children’, 4 September 1956; Janet Biddlecombe memorial wing opened, 1959;
    child discharged from home, 1959
  • amendment of home’s constitution, 1964
  • request for new admissions at Bethany due to Allambie nursery being over capacity; details of admission of additional children in 1967 and 1971
  • application for declaration of an establishment as an approved children’s home, juvenile school, or juvenile hostel, 31 December 1957; declaration of institution as an approved children’s home, 21 January 1958
  • annual report, 1965, 1971–72
  • copy of policy statement issued by the committee of Bethany Babies’ home, 1974, 1976
  • list of children, both single placement and family groups, 1974
  • reduction of wards with foster care program run by the department and Bethany Babies’ Home quota, 1974; and request to receive children from Allambie, 1976
  • report to the Board of Bethany Babies’ Home 1976; letter from the department on the home's future, 3 June 1976
    list of children transferred from Allambie, list of wards, 1976
  • press release from home on diversifying their service to meet the needs of Geelong, 1976
  • Barwon Regional Centre, notes from joint meeting Bethany Babies’ Home, Glastonbury Children’s’ Home and Kardinia Children’s’ Home, 15 December 1976
  • notes from the joint meeting of children’s home management, 1976–77
  • Bethany Child and Family Care Centre – report on changes and new centre, 1977
  • Bethany Child and Family Support brochure from new centre, 1978
  • return on admission and discharge, 1982, list wards
  • correspondence regarding funding, 1983

Reviewed 10 August 2016